Why are Cycling Jerseys So Expensive?

By Rachel Lee
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True bicycling enthusiasts take their equipment and attire very seriously, to the point where some fork out up to $350 for a cycling jersey. Those uninitiated to the sport must ask, Why are cycling jerseys so expensive?

Cycling jerseys are so expensive for several reasons, including use of technologically advanced fabrics and design; the related research and development needed for high-performance and super-comfortable jerseys; and the market itself which leans toward the high end of the income spectrum.

Scan through any bicycling forum and you’ll probably notice opinions vary regarding expensive cycling jerseys. Hard-core competitive bicyclists will swear by their top-brand jerseys; while others might favor thrift stores or online resale marketplaces to find decent cycling attire.

Regardless of naysayers, people are buying $350 jerseys — or they wouldn’t remain on the market at that price for long. Scientific advances that some feel help bicyclists when applied to jerseys, such as nanotechnology or carbon fiber, plus modern manufacturing processes have raised the bar in terms of selection for high-quality cycling garments.

Cycling Jerseys Go High-Tech

Success in bicycling depends on many factors, including some that are common with other racing-oriented sports. That is, weight, aerodynamics, safety and driver/rider comfort, to name some. For the items they wear in competition, add to the list convenience, as one may be surprised with how many cyclists swear by the need for pockets.

Serious or competitive bicyclists are always interested in somehow gaining an edge. As such, they will consider nearly any product for every element of their game, from their bike to safety gear to attire. Not only do many riders believe high-quality jerseys help increase speed and improve times, some also believe in the adage, “If you look good, you feel good, so you play good.”

High-end bicycling jerseys are made of advanced and sometimes quite exotic fabrics — and fabric is the most expensive element in the production of jerseys. Consider the following fabric materials or manufacturing techniques, for instance:

  • Nanotechnology. Sometimes called the “science of very small things,” nanotechnology utilizes manufacturing processes involving the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules. Dealing with particles of less than 100 nanometers (a nanometer to a meter is what a golf ball is to the Earth, experts say), manufacturers have been applying nanotechnology to produce cycling jerseys said to block the sun’s harmful rays, superbly pull sweat away from a rider’s body, and more.
  • Carbon Fiber. This composite material can be used for specific applications on cycling jerseys, giving them an edge for riders in terms of great strength at very light weights. Carbon fiber-reinforced jerseys maintain strong thermal properties to help regulate a cyclist’s temperature during long rides or races.
  • Tight-Weave Threads. While not necessarily a scientific application, threads tightly woven are favored by many bicyclists for comfort, smoothness, aerodynamics or other reasons. Woven fabrics also have the additional benefit of more protection from ultraviolet rays (UV rays) than, say, jerseys made with knits.
  • Composites. Manufacturers are tinkering with fabrics that combine carbon fiber, cotton and polyester in cycling jerseys, with the concept being that two or three types of threads are stronger and more advantageous compared with fabrics made with only one type of material.

Ultimately, manufacturers of high-quality (and typically high-priced) cycling jerseys aim to deliver products that exceed one or more of cyclists’ top desires: performance, comfort, moisture regulation, safety, convenience, protection, drag reduction, light weight, durability, and more. Delivering these jerseys means using premium materials and design backed by research and testing, which eventually gets folded into the price.

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High-End Market for Bicycling

When considering why cycling jerseys are so expensive, one must consider the market. Serious bicycling is not what they might call a poor-man’s sport. High-performing bicycles themselves can run into the thousands of dollars, and tack onto that associated gear like cycling shoes, and other items included in cycling “kits.”

Cycling is almost akin to golf in that realm. It’s a sport of individuals, which means egos. Hence the manufacturing and marketing of related sportswear like jerseys with a lot of research and development involved — and associated high prices. Cyclists have shown an inclination to pay more for better functionality, fashion, or both.

Pay Attention to the Seams in Cycling Jerseys

Cycling wear experts point to the seams in cycling jerseys as an indicator of the item’s quality. For instance, a budget jersey may have straight seams, which means a manufacturer did not bother with tailoring to fit the body, to avoid wasting fabric. Straight seams are also easier to sew, saving time and money.

The result can be jerseys that appear, and fit, boxier. In other words, untailored to the human body. In comparison, some more expensive cycling jerseys have directional panels, designed to stretch only in ways the jersey is expected to while on a cyclist’s body.

Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF)

Higher-end cycling jerseys often have elaborate treatments, such as odor control, or something known as UPF. Called Ultraviolet Protection Factor, it’s akin to the UV-ray protection rating on sunscreens. The UPF rates the ability of a garment or fabric to prevent the sun’s harmful rays from reaching a cyclist’s skin.

Garments’ UPF ratings start at 15, and rise to over 50, the higher number indicating more protection. Impacting this protection are: materials like polyester or Lycra (and not cotton); construction, particularly tightly woven fabric; dark colors; not-too-tight fits (as stretching fabric really cuts UPF ratings); whether the UPF is the result of chemical treatments (which tend to wash out eventually); and normal wear and tear

Note for cyclists: a common skin cancer for males is on the back, so beware of super-tight jerseys that can leave the upper back and shoulders vulnerable to UV rays sneaking through. Regarding the washing out of special treatments such as odor control and UPF, experts say the lower-priced jerseys seem to be much more vulnerable; the higher-end jerseys tend to have treatments integrated into the fabric used.

Pockets, Zip Ventilation and More

As noted above, some cyclists will state that the most important element of cycling jerseys are … pockets. Keen jersey manufacturers add multiple pockets, or elements like zip ventilation or a snug waist cut, as selling attraction points.

Aside from riding well and fast, cyclists like to feel as comfortable as possible. Paying a little more attention to tailoring to avoid jerseys flapping along the way can boost dividends down the road for manufacturers.

Related Questions

Question: What exactly is nanotechnology?

Answer: Basically, strategically using very, very small particles (less than 100 nanometers) in production. For cycling wear, it means applying nanoparticles precisely to achieve desired results. Nanoparticles are tiny items of inorganic materials — very small, but not quite as small as the level of molecules. But close.

Sportswear manufacturers are figuring out how to arrange and disperse nanoparticles within products to achieve exceptional results, such as by blocking UV rays, infra-red rays (IR) and visible light from the sun. Nanotechnology is so glorified at the moment that top global scientists look at it as a tremendous asset for space exploration.

Q.: Because cycling is so popular in Europe, is that why cycling jerseys made by European brands are more expensive?

A.: The might be costly for reasons other than demand and popularity. Garments made in the European Union — all garments, including sportswear — must abide by strict labor and environmental laws. Manufacturers must address the added costs with higher pricing. So, you’d be getting a nice jersey, and while at it know that you also supported decent wages and work conditions.

Q.: How true is it that some of these new-technology fabrics can actually promote good health?

A.: We’re waiting for quantifiable evidence, but yes, some are making such claims. For instance, fabric materials with carbon fiber can disperse the electronic spray from cell phones or even powerlines, believed to protect your health. Think about how many power lines cyclists roll under. Fabrics with nanotechnology woven in are said to boost blood circulation and aid in muscle recovery.

See Also:
Why Are Cycling Shoes So Narrow?
Why the Bike Seat Is Not Soft
Clipless Pedals: Why Are They Called Clipless?